Golden Gate Wing Guest Speaker Archive

Presentation Date: July 26, 2007

CAPT Leon Woodie Spears USAF

Speaker Photo

Original Tuskegee Airman and combat fighter pilot in WWII and KOREA.
* Earned Silver Pilot Wings on 24 June 1944, Class 44F, Tuskegee, AL.
* Flew P-40, P-39, P-47, P-51 and virtually all the key USA fighters of WWII.
* Flew 51 combat missions in P-51s "Donna" and "Kitten", based in Ramitelli, Italy.
* Hit by German 88 "flak" at 32,000 feet above Berlin, 24 March 1944, on 51st mission.
* Became a POW of Germans, then worse with the Russians; fascinating journey to freedom! Original Tuskegee Airman and combat fighter pilot in WWII and KOREA.
* Born 15 January 1924 in Trinidad, CO; raised in Pueblo, CO.
* Always yearned to fly! Resisted all discouragement about pursuing pilot training.
* Earned Silver Pilot Wings on 24 June 1944, Class 44F, Tuskegee, AL.
* Cross-country training flight episode featured in HBO Movie The Tuskegee Airmen.
* Flew P-40, P-39, P-47, P-51 and virtually all the key USA fighters of WWII.
* Advanced training in high-performance fighters, then sent to Italy with 301st FS, 332nd FG.
* Flew 51 combat missions in P-51s "Donna" and "Kitten", based in Ramitelli, Italy.
* Hit by German 88 "flak" at 32,000 feet above Berlin, 24 March 1944, on 51st mission.
* Superior airmanship & training enabled a successful forced landing in Poland.
* Became a POW of Germans, then worse with the Russians; fascinating journey to freedom!
* 51 Combat Missions in WWII
* 17 Combat Missions in KOREA
* Served a a teacher, followed by a 35-year career with USPS, including executive positions.
* Active motivational speaker.
* Woodie's theme in life: Dare To Dream!

"I don’t remember a time when I did not want to fly."

Today, more than 70 years since Leon "Woodie Spears moved to a home near an airport, he remembers his roots and a dream which led him to fly and fight for a Fighter Group with one of the most distinguished records in Army Air Force history. Spears was a Tuskegee Airman who flew 51 combat missions in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations until he was shot down by flak and became a prisoner of war.

Born January 15, 1924 in Trinidad, Colorado, Woodie Spears was the son of a dry farmer. His family’s crops depended every year on "natural" irrigation, or specifically, rainfall, which Woodie says worked fine until the drought of the 1930s that led to the dustbowl in America’s Midwest. The drought was the worst ever in U.S. history, covering more than 75 percent of the country. Huge dust storms spawned in the dustbowl carried away millions of tons of topsoil and turned rich farmland into desert.

"My first memory of anything at all was of coming off that ranch, and coming to Pueblo, Colorado so my dad could work in the steel mills. He’d been a farmer all his life and couldn’t read or write or anything. He came to Pueblo and went to work in that steel mill. For the first time in his life he had to work for somebody for wages. He couldn’t understand that, because as a farmer, everything you got was yours. I guess that started to lead to his demise."

The fact his father lacked formal education offered Woodie an opportunity his four-year older sister and two-year younger brother didn’t get.

"He subscribed to a daily newspaper. So he’d take a newspaper, lay it out on the dining room table, and he’d say, ‘That picture, and the writing underneath it. Is that about that picture? Read it to me.’

"He’d just sit there in the chair, close his eyes and rock back and forth while I’m reading. If you came up with a polysyllabic word while reading he’d ask you, ‘What does that mean?’

Woodie says he got a pretty good education himself looking up the words in a thick, dictionary he got when the school sold or gave away some older dictionaries.

Spears says the family lived in a racially -integrated neighborhood near the Pueblo municipal airport, and he remembers being able, as early as when he was six years old, to identify an airplane by the drone of its engine.

"I remember sitting at the breakfast table and I heard this droning and it was something I had never heard before. I jumped up from the table and ran outside and looked up and what was flying up there was a Boeing P-26A, called a Peashooter. It was the most beautiful plane I’d ever seen—partly fabric -covered, with a blue fuselage and yellow wings.

The plane circled, as if was going to land at the municipal airport, and young Woodie sprinted to the chain -link fence that surrounded the airport. He hung onto the fence watching as the plane taxied in, the pilot giving it a final burst of throttle before cutting the ignition switch to silence the radial engine.

"It was the most beautiful aroma of my life: the smell of burned fuel, the doped fabric, the burnished leather. I said ‘this is so fantastic.’

"I looked at the airplane… and back in that day, nine times out of ten, an Army pilot flew the same plane all the time. And he had his name on the side of the airplane and underneath his name was the most beautiful word I had ever heard in my life. Underneath his name was the word: pilot.

"I thought, right then and there, ‘my God. I don’t care what happens, that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve got to fly’ "

Flying wasn’t easy to do in the 1930’s. While gasoline cost about 16 cents a gallon, a flying lesson might cost $2.50. That was a considerable sum in the days of the lingering Great Depression, more likely to go towards buying a family corn meal, flour and sugar.

As Woodie leaned against the chain -link fence, a voice broke his trance. From further down the fence his father said, "Son?"

Woodie said his father, carrying a long elm tree switch as he approached, admonished him. "How many times have your mother and I told you to stay away from this airport. There’s nothing here for you. They’re not going to allow you to participate in anything out here. So 'git for home."

His father "tagging" with the switch all the way back home, Woodie says he had sense enough not to run because that would have resulted in a "world class whipping."

Despite his father’s and mother’s litanies against their son ever having an opportunity to fly in an airplane, young Spears says he never lost the urge to be airborne.

In 1941, that urge was answered.

The December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor led to an accelerated pilot training program and Army Air Corps recruiting interviews for aviation cadets in Pueblo. Leon Spears was among a high -spirited group of young men from the same neighborhood who showed up at the recruiting office to serve their country as pilots.

When the recruiting officer began handing out applications, he stopped at Woodie, telling him there were no Army Air Corps facilities for black people.

"I felt that was kind of strange, because I had been past a newspaper kiosk a few days before and I found a copy of Life magazine. On the front of that magazine it had a picture of the first graduates of a flying program at Tuskegee University.

"I thought this was so great and carried this magazine with me everywhere I went. I had it then, and when he said ‘this couldn’t be’, I pulled out the magazine and said, ‘what about this? This is your white folks magazine…"

The recruiting officer hadn’t heard anything about the Tuskegee University program, didn’t take an application from Woodie, but did say he’d look into the matter and get back to Spears.

Spears was skeptical at first, but discovered the man was true to his word when he invited Woodie back down to fill out his application. A few weeks then passed before word came back for Spears to get a physical and a mental examination in Pueblo.

The final word on Spears’ acceptance to a flight -training program proved ironic:

"After all this, I was the only one who made it. And you’d think that kids being what they are, or what they were, that there would be a certain amount of enviousness.

But there wasn’t. One of our group had made it and that was good enough for us."

Spears says the motion picture Tuskegee Airmen showed actor Lawrence Fishburn leaving for training with a mostly white group of well-wishers seeing him off at the train station. That’s the way Spears says it was for his departure to Tuskegee University in Alabama.

He recalls one of hi friends even suggesting Woodie keep a running account of his experiences to share with his neighborhood friends. Spears did.

The trip down south proved to be a series of experiences revolving around what were known as "Jim Crow" laws. He rode the train from Pueblo to Colorado Springs, then got on the Rockland Rocket to St. Louis, where he transferred to the L&N line.

"Once you get on the L&N you just keep going south. I got to Evansville, Indiana, where on the platform I saw four doors. I took them to be doors leading to restrooms. It was my first taste of any kind of segregation. The first door said White Ladies, the second said Colored Women. The next one said White Gentlemen and the last one, Colored Men.

Spears says a Pullman porter grabbed Woodie’s bags, telling him he’d be leading him to a "better place" on the rain—a car up front behind the coal tender, divided into sections for white people and black people.

"He told me, ‘you’ll learn why’."

At Tuskegee University, Spears began his ground school and flight training in a Piper Cub. His instructors were black, and as tough as any flight instructors of the time.

He relates a bit of the history preceding his days at Tuskegee, a visit by the President’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, who said she’d like to have an airplane ride.

"She’s the First Lady of course, and she’s surrounded by the Secret Service, who tell her, ‘Mrs. Roosevelt, you have nothing to worry about. We’ll get you into the air.’ The head of the Secret Service found a white Lt. Col., brought him up and said, ’Mrs. Roosevelt, this man’s going to fly you around.’

Spears says the First Lady responded that she had something else in mind, as she pointed at Alfred C. "Chief" Anderson, a black instructor pilot, and said, "I want him to fly me."

The Secret Service man relented and Mrs. Roosevelt got her aerial tour of the Tuskegee, Alabama with Anderson at the controls of the plane. This led to the University receiving a loan for the lion’s share of costs to build an airport for pilot training.

When the military sought new airbases in 1941, Tuskegee was finally chosen as a site that would provide the least delay in starting a military training program for blacks.

Spears says his training continued at the Institute, then he was shipped out to the newly built Tuskegee Army Airbase. The difference was in the white officers who were brought in for training cadets in planes with higher-horsepower engines.

"Not only were they white, but they were indigenous to that area. When you took off in the airplane with them you were flying over their outhouse, or their pig farm. Not to take anything away from them.

"I used to watch them fly and said, boy if I ever get that good. I sure hope I’ll be that good… I couldn’t stand how they talked to you. They used the ‘n’ word just like you use bread and butter. I got to thinking maybe that was my name, ‘nigger’.

A captain in his 50s named Gabe Hawkins, an instrument instructor, proved a special challenge to aviation cadet Spears. Woodie says he and Hawkins climbed into an AT- 6 advanced trainer one morning, and took off, Woodie under the hood.

"There was an intercom in there and Gabe was screaming and hollering in there from the minute we took off. He said, ‘Who ever told you that you had the capability of even flying? Niggers don’t have that capability! I don’t see why you people even thought about this.’ He took the stick and swung it around, banging my knees and that sort of thing."

Spears says he finally got flustered and came out from under the instrument hood. Hawkins looked in his rear view mirror and saw the cadet, then said, "You know what. You are going to fly, because I’m going to beat flying into you!"

Woodie says he remained silent, momentarily imagining his dream of flying vanishing at the hands of an abusive white Army officer in the Deep South, who began flying the training aircraft to a remote auxiliary airfield (Shorter Field) nearby. Spears says he reflexively pulled his joystick from its mount (the stick could be removed from an AT -6 rear cockpit to facilitate the seat being turned for aerial target practice).

Meanwhile, Hawkins had brought the AT -6 down on the landing strip, and before the plane had stopped rolling repeated his threat, "C’mon nigger, c’mon, c’mon. I told you I’m going to beat flying into you, and that’s what’s going happen, here and now.

Spears figured if he tried to fight Hawkins, he’d probably be lynched at one of the trees by the airfield and even slight resistance might lead to a ‘world class’ beating. Either way, the dream of being a pilot was dissolving before his eyes.

In a daze, Woodie says he took the stick with him as he climbed from the plane and stood on the wing nose -to- nose with Hawkins, the stick in his right hand raised above the officer’s head. Tears had begun streaming down his face as he realized his dream of flying was vanishing.

Hovering over Hawkins head, Spears says he imagined a cartoon-like conversation balloon, which read, "You know what? I think this crazy’s nigger’s gonna’ kill me." There was a series of double takes as the two men remained squared off, then Hawkins’ hand came up and settled softly on Spears’ shoulder, as the instructor said, "Let’s get back in here and fly this airplane."

"I had two months to go before graduation and, needless to say, Gabe and I got along pretty famously from that point on.

Spears says that as badly as he despised that sort of thing, he recognized this was part of their upbringing. He couldn’t get mad at Gabe or the other instructors for what they did or said, and he continued to admire them for what they could do in an airplane.

Plans were for the silver wings of an Army Air Corps Flight Officer to be pinned on Leon Spears by his girlfriend, but she had not arrived by the time of the graduation ceremony. Instead Woodie asked Gabe to pin the wings. And, to fulfill an Air Force tradition of paying a fellow officer five dollars for his first salute, Spears shelled out the money to Gabe, thinking to himself, "Let me give this cracker five bucks."

In return, remembers Spears, Hawkins said, "I wish I could go over there with you. I’m too old. I’m a good pilot but they won’t take me into a combat situation. But, you know, you’re a damn good pilot, and I’m sending you."

Spears says Hawkins put his arms around him, and shuddered with emotion as he hugged the new officer.

Graduation from Tuskegee, June 24, 1944 (Class 44F), meant as many as five months training in the P -40 Warhawk. Unfortunately, the fighters made available to Woodie Spears and his fellow flying officers could be characterized as "hunks of junk".

"A bunch of us were sitting underneath the wing of one in the hot sun, one day, and there was oil dripping out of it onto the ground. The olive drab paint was peeling. I kept flicking it and more paint came off, until, guess what came out? A tiger’s tooth! I said, "Do you mean to tell me this is a plane that even the Flying Tigers don’t want?"

One memorable feature of the P -40, says Spears, was the wobble pump, located next to the joystick. If hydraulic pressure was too low to raise the landing gear, a pilot would begin working the wobble pump—but it took 90 pumps to get the job done.

There was one unit available for graduates of the Tuskegee program, the 332nd Fighter Group and its four squadrons, the 99th, 100th, 301st and 302nd. Given that narrow opportunity, pilots only made it overseas if they were replacements for pilots killed or wounded, captured, or returning home.

The 332nd, in combat, had moved up from flying P -39s to P -47s from bases in Sicily and Naples, then to P-51s from a more northern base at Ramitelli, Italy. For the most part, the 332nd’s job was to provide escort to B-17s and B-24s hitting targets in southeastern Europe and Germany. And in that role, the Tuskegee Airmen, in planes adorned with red- painted tails, truly distinguished themselves. And the group became known as the Red Tails.

Spears mostly flew P -51Cs, with "Donna" and "Kitten" painted on their noses.

"When we found B- 17s or B-24s, their noses were at a high attitude as they climbed for altitude. Now, climbing, a B-17 or -24 is only going to do about 120 miles an hour, because it’s so heavily loaded. So, in a P -51 you can’t really fly stable alongside it, and to keep your speed up you’re flying an ‘S’ over the top of them all the time."

Flying close escort for bombers in those days meant little chance of any freedom to hunt or even chase enemy fighters rising to challenge the bomber formations. But Spears says when he, James Mitchell and four other fellow Red Tails escorted a British Mosquito photoreconnaissance plane, opportunity knocked. The Mosquito, having finished its work, scooted ahead of the Red Tails, heading for home.

Shortly thereafter, over Rumania, Spears says the six P-51s came upon a damaged B-24 limping back after a mission. Two engines were smoking, one prop was feathered, and the bomber faced having to cross the Alps to get back to Italy. To make the 18,000 feet minimum altitude to cross the mountains on two remaining engines, the crew was throwing guns, gear and even parachutes overboard.

Spears says he flew up the starboard side of the B -24 and communicated with a waist gunner, offering him invitation to land at Ramitelli rather than flying all the way to the bomber’s base. Suddenly, the waist gunner started jumping up and down and began pointing to the port side of the bomber.

"We had been down lower than the bomber, pulled up even and started to fly over it when we saw a Heinkel -111, coming down to take him out. He had a bead on it. We came up and flew across the B- 24. I almost hit the Heinkel… I had to snatch the stick back… and in doing so I pulled the trigger and raked him a little bit.

"Now Mitchell was right in behind him and Mitchell let him have a good one. By that time I’m back to flying good again, and this next time, between the two of us, we hit him and you could see pieces flying off him and he started going down. You knew he was through."

The B-24 followed the Red Tails to land at Ramitelli, and when the Tuskegee pilots landed, they joined up with the B- 24 crew in the mess hall.

"All of them were just as happy as a lark. The captain was from North Carolina, and in his Carolina accent said, ‘If I don’t do anything else in my life, I’m going to make damn sure that you guys get a Distinguished Flying Cross for this. Because if you guys hadn’t come along, we’re gone…’

Spears recalled his 51st mission, March 24, 1945, when Red Tail P-51s rendezvoused with B-17s at Regensburg, turning for Berlin. He’d expected to see flak filling the sky. Instead he got his first look at German jets, swept- wing Me-262 fighters.

"There were several of them and they’d come down in the formations, but I think they were just harassing the bombers, making the formation feel uncomfortable. He could go way faster than you and didn’t want to stay still very long because he knew if he did we’d be on top of him.

"And that was also the first look I got at the Me -163, that day. It was a true rocket. You could tell it was because it was flying along and you’d see a burst of flame and white smoke, then there’d be a space and another burst. It was much faster than the Me-262 and much more unstable."

Spears says the fighters disappeared, and the sky ahead began turning black with antiaircraft fire. At 32,000 feet with intense flak, the P-51s were no help at all to the bombers they were escorting.

"I was leading a flight of four, and I started easing them off, ruddering over to one side. At that time I rolled my plane over to one side and there was Berlin. The first thing you see at that altitude was the airport, Tempelhoff. They used that after the war, in the Berlin Airlift.

"I thought, ‘this is great. Why can’t we do stuff like that in our country. It takes you, in many instances, longer to get to the airport from town than it does to fly to another city!’ I thought about that, forgetting I was a warrior in my plane and over enemy territory.

"I rolled my plane back over and steady and I saw this little teeny black speck. That little teeny black speck immediately turned out to be the beginning of a flak burst. And I knew I was in it because the first piece of shard hit my prop, bent it, turned it around."

Spears says the plane instantly began vibrating, and a second flak shard hit his P-51’s left wing root, knocking off the external fuel tank on that side. He suddenly found himself upside down and spinning, and to this day doesn’t really recall how he got the plane righted. Recovering, he gazed out at a huge hole in the left wing that exposed fuel hoses and the wing structure. Spears quickly dropped the external fuel tank on the right wing to better balance the plane’s weight, and then glanced at the P- 51’s instruments.

"I looked at the engine temperature gauge and it had already pegged out at the top. That meant the coolant was now gone. I then looked at my oil pressure gauge and it had pegged out at the bottom, which meant I had lost my oil, too. Without coolant and oil, you’re not long for the air.

"I was hit at 32,000 feet and when I got the plane straightened out, more or less, I was now at roughly 20,000. I could hear the engine was binding up, so I let it down so I could ease the throttle back. The engine was still turning, but you could feel the heat from it, because it was so hot."

Knowing he wouldn’t make it to Italy, Spears decided to head east, towards Russia, recognizing he first would have to cross the expanse of Poland. Then, deciding it might be better to bail out, he released the canopy and watched it sail away. While thinking through the steps of unbuckling his shoulder straps and seatbelt, bringing the airplane’s down to a near -stall and then rolling it over and falling out, Woodie remembered the words of his primary instructor, Jim Wright."

"He’d said, ‘Woodie, if you have problems with your airplane, but it’s flying at all, stay there.’ I thought, I’d already blown my canopy and gotten myself loosened up, all ready to drop out… okay, I’ll stay.

The P-51, with Spears watching its airspeed, glided closer to the ground, until the pilot found a relatively smooth space to belly it in. Unfortunately, the plane hit hard, bounced into the air, spun around and then fell back down. Spears says the momentum was so great that the rudder whipped to the right and broke through its stops. In the cockpit, Woodie had his feet braced on the rudder pedals, which swung and almost took off his foot.

Spears climbed out of the plane and saw a car coming toward him. He knew the moment he saw the car it was a 1937 Mercedes Benz 4 -door convertible.

"He had to be a millionaire," the downed pilot thought.

But the car held two Luftwaffe officers and some enlisted men, one of whom carried an MP-40 machine pistol leveled at Spears. The Germans gestured for Spears to drop the .45 cal pistol in his shoulder holster on the ground, which he did.

"They took me to Posen, Poland, where they had their headquarters, to a building which looked like it had at one time been a hotel. They put me on the second floor, in a room with a bed and all, with a guard with a burp gun by the door. And every time I turned around, the gun was sitting in the door and he was gone. So, I got up, took the gun over to the bed and started taking it apart. I just wanted to see what made it go.

"Finally, I heard the guy coming back, and though he was going to be pissed-off. He had a look of consternation when he first saw me, then came over and got on the bed with me and showed me how to do it—take it apart, put it back together…"

Spears calls his treatment "royal", he says, because the war was almost over and his German captors knew it. He believes they also were aware of the atrocities at the concentration camps and elsewhere, and wanted to make sure they did right by their prisoners.

"All of them had little nametags and they’d shove their nametags in my face. And I knew what that was. If there was a war crimes tribunal or anything being held there, and I was going to be part of it, at least I could say, "Oh, Hans? Good guy, or he treated me famously. He was good to me."

The Germans did perform solid medical work on Spears’ injured right foot:

"They bandaged it up real well, put it in a soft cast. And it was the first time I’d seen or heard of sulfa drugs. When I left the Germans, the Russians didn’t do a darn thing for it. The only way I got any relief was to peel off the bandages at night and let the foot lay out there a little bit.

"It got to the point where after awhile I couldn’t feel anything in my foot any more."

Spears says he spent four or five days in that building, waking up one morning to a thunderous racket and the building shaking as if it was ready to fall. The glass in the building’s windows had been long gone, and when Spears ran down a hall empty of any Germans he pulled aside the loose boards over a window so he could peek outside to the street. What he saw was a Soviet tank Spears instantly recognized from his training as a "Stalin". But he says he didn’t realize the JS-2 was that big.

"That thing was huge, with a great big gun out front that was so heavy that, the tank was rolling along and whenever it stopped, it looked like it would almost tip the tank over. Around the tank were quite a few soldiers and, from their uniforms, some officers.

Realizing the tank was stopping to fire shells that were collapsing buildings in single deafening roars, Spears decided he’d better get of the building he was in. He ripped the boards off the window in front of him, started yelling and stuck his back in the window. On the back of his leather A-2 flight jacket was an American flag.

Finally, he says a Soviet officer called out, "Amerikanski!" and ran up the stairs to throw a big hug around Woodie.

"Russians, you’ll find, are real huggy, kissy people. But that was the only good treatment the Russians gave me. The Germans, in their zeal to do whatever they were going to do, had taken away all of my I -D, my wallet and even my dogtags.

"Well, if you’re in Russia and you have no I -D, you’re persona non gratis. They don’t particularly care for you at all. Plus, there was the fact that I was an officer, and they had a little disdain for authority. This stemmed form the Bolshevik Revolution, because of the popular takeover by the people. So they frowned on any kind of authority and didn’t take to me at all.

"I finally learned a few words of Russian and some of them spoke a little English. I used to tell them, ’Hey, I’m not your enemy. Let’s get along here. "

Spears says he spent three months with the Russians. One of the worst experiences with them was eating in their mess hall, which he says led to "losing so much weight it wasn’t funny".

"Everything was fish, with the heads still on them. Their potatoes were horrible. The bread was black bread and the milk had started to turn into buttermilk, already. I wouldn’t eat, and they got to a point where they didn’t like me too well."

According to Spears, the Russians were trying to get him to a place where they could ship him out. At Lodz, Poland there was a German death camp.

"When they had me on a train I went past this death camp and there would be a big pile of clothing. Some of them still had a paper Star of David on them. Then there’d be a big pile of shoes, and then a big pile of teeth, with gold fillings.

Spears says at Lodz, the Russians were making German prisoners unearth bodies from mass graves, where they had been dumped, covered with lye and buried, sometimes before the people were dead. The Germans were then tasked with moving the decomposing corpses for reburial in singular graves.

Every town Spears says he traveled through held downed Allied airmen the Soviets were harboring, until they reached Odessa, on the Black Sea. There, a British officer told the repatriated airmen, now totaling about 1000 in number, they would be shipped home on a French luxury liner.

"He said, ‘There’s one two -man compartment, two four -man compartments and there’s one 2000 -man compartment. You’ll be placed on the ship according to your rank.’

"I’m a 2nd Lt, in a sea of Captains and Colonels. I figured what they’d do with me. Now, on the way over, we ran across two other Tuskegee Airmen, and we‘d formed a little three -man cadre there. I figured what they’d do with me was swing a hammock just out of the bilge water and that’s where I’ll be.

Spears says they’d spent nearly all day calling out names to assign the repatriated airmen to quarters on the ship, but had not called his name. Spears then realized his other Tuskegee Airmen had not been assigned either.

The three black airmen found the British officer, and Spears says he told them, "I thought you chaps would care to be to yourselves, so I gave you one of the four-man compartments."

Woodie says he looked skywards and gave a little prayer, "God, I want you to find that guy that invented segregation and pin a little medal to him. And, I want to thank you, God, for making me a colored man."

Spears disembarked from the boat in Italy, where he reported to the 35th Field Hospital. He was told he would lose his leg as a result of his damaged foot. Yet after some time to heal, Spears left the medical unit intact.

During the Korean War, Spears flew 17 combat missions. In his civilian career, he has served as a teacher, and for 35 -years with the US Postal Service, including executive positions.

About 25 years after the war’s end, Woodie Spears says he received a package in the mail, postmarked in St. Louis, Missouri. Inside were papers describing the mission when the Red Tail saved the damaged B -24—and a Distinguished Flying Cross awarding that service.

Woodie remains very active, speaking often at schools and civic organizations to "pay forward" the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen -"Red Tails". 2007 has been a banner year for Woodie and his fellow compatriots; two highlights have been receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in the US Capitol Rotunda with President Bush present, then, in late September, the recent Gathering of Mustangs and Legends at Rickenbacker Field, Columbus, Ohio where he was an honored guest as one of the "legends".